How do we see problems of nationalism, racism, imperialism, freedom, and fear at work at the end of the twentieth century and the dawn of the twenty-first century? How do we still deal with these key issues, and how did the post-World War II settlement fail to address them?

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The years surrounding the turn of the millennium saw no decrease in armed conflicts and political struggles which were intertwined with nationalism, racism, and imperialism—all of which feed on fear. Freedom remained a central issue around which those struggles coalesced.

In 1990, nationalism and imperialism both contributed to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The US entry into the armed conflict, with the first Gulf War, demonstrated this nation’s willingness to use military power in defense of an ally’s sovereignty as well as access to crucial resources, primarily oil. The fluctuating US involvement in these issues continued into the new millennium, including the 2000 invasion and subsequent occupation.

For many people in the United States, the defining event of global conflict was the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Along with the related events in Virginia and Pennsylvania, this attack on US soil had widespread repercussions, including the tightening of borders and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. At the same time, an increase in discrimination against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern heritage threatened the civil and human rights of many US citizens.

Globally, according to a 2017 United Nations study, after a decline in the 1990s, the number and duration of civil wars increased after 2000. Fewer of these wars end in military victory, but instead tend to show relapses within five years. Another significant actor is the increased presence of non-state actors, including jihadist groups, which makes the conflicts less amenable to political settlements.

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